Enterprise network insights and network score in the Microsoft 365 Admin Center


[Edit 9/21/2020: This post is about Ignite 2019. Ignite 2020 content for Office 365 network connectivity is at http://aka.ms/netignite]


Today we are announcing a preview program for network insights and a network score in the Microsoft 365 Admin Center. The new network performance pages in the Microsoft 365 Admin Center show network insights and a network score for enterprise customers. Network insights are specific recommended network architecture design changes to improve user experience related to network connectivity to Office 365 and the network score shows how network connectivity impacts user experience allowing for comparison of different user location network connections. Enterprises using Office 365 with multiple office locations and non-trivial network perimeter architectures can benefit from this either during their initial onboarding to Office 365, or in order to remediate network performance issues discovered with usage growth. This is usually not necessary for small businesses using Office 365, or any enterprises who already have simple and direct network connectivity. Enterprises with over 500 users would be expected to benefit the most.


You can register interest in the preview program which is planned to start in the first quarter of 2020 at http://aka.ms/netpreview.


Enterprise network connectivity challenges

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Many enterprises have network perimeter configurations which have grown over time and are primarily designed to accommodate employee Internet web site access where most web sites are not known in advance and are untrusted. The prevailing and necessary focus is avoiding malware and fishing attacks from these unknown web sites. This network configuration strategy, while helpful for security purposes, can lead to degradation of Office 365 user performance and user experience. Enterprises can improve user experience but also continue to secure their environment by following Office 365 connectivity principles and soon by using the new Microsoft 365 Admin Center network performance feature. This feature helps with network architecture design that aligns with the Office 365 connectivity principles and should lead to optimized network performance for connectivity to Office 365.


How we can solve these challenges


Microsoft is often asked to investigate network performance issues with Office 365 for enterprise customers, and these frequently have a root cause related to the customers network egress infrastructure. When a common root cause of a customer network perimeter issue is found we seek to identify simple test measurements that identify it. A test with a measurement threshold that identifies a specific problem is valuable because we can test the same measurement at any location, tell whether this root cause is present there and share it as a network insight with the admin. Some network insights will merely indicate a problem that needs further investigation. A network insight where we have enough tests to show a specific remediation action to correct the root cause is listed as a recommended action. These network insights based on measurements past a predetermined threshold are much more valuable than general best practice advice since you do not have to ask whether certain best practice applies and will result in significant user experience improvement or not.


Network performance in the Microsoft 365 Admin Center


Microsoft has existing network measurements from included several Office desktop and web clients which support the operation of Office 365. These same measurements are now being used to provide network architecture design insights and a network performance score which are shown in the network performance page on the Microsoft 365 Admin Center.


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Approximate location information associated with the network measurements can identify the city where client devices are located. This is used to show the customers office locations and network measurements are grouped to provide network insights for that office location. On the screenshot example shown of the network performance overview page the customer has devices centered across five geographic locations. The network score at each location is shown with color and the relative number of users at each location is represented by the size of the circle. This overview page also shows the network score for the customer as a weighted average across all office locations.


Specific office location network performance and insights


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Selecting an office location opens a location specific summary page. We show details of the network egress that has been identified from measurements for that office location. On the screenshot example of the office location summary page the office location in Philadelphia has network egress on the U.S. west coast, resulting in significant network cost and user experience impact.


The page also shows a network score which indicates the relative user experience impact of network connectivity and allows for comparisons of network performance between locations or between different customers in the same city. The network score is calculated from measurements that impact user experience for key Office 365 workloads. It uses the TCP latency from the client to the Exchange Online service front door, the download speed for documents from the client to the SharePoint Online service front door, and the UDP latency, jitter, and packet loss from the client to the Microsoft Teams service front door. As network connectivity improvements are made, this score will increase along with user experience.


The office location summary page additionally shows a network score history, a comparison of this locations score to other customers in the same city, and a list of specific insights and recommendations that the customer can undertake to improve their network connectivity. Comparisons between customers in the same city are based on the expectation that all customers have equal access to network service providers, telecommunications infrastructure, and nearby Microsoft network points of presence.


The details tab on the office location page shows the specific measurement results that were used to come up with any insights, recommendations, and the network score. This is provided so that network engineers can validate the recommendations and factor in any constraints or specifics in their environment.


For customers who want to improve the accuracy of office locations and recommendations provided we allow for more specific information to be entered. This is done by editing the discovered location information and can reduce the approximations that are inherent in the location information available for network measurements.


Many of these tests and recommendations are available already in the Network Onboarding Tool proof of concept which you can use today. Network Performance in the Microsoft 365 Admin Center expands on this by showing insights across all office locations where the tenant is used, basing insights on existing measurements so that less on the ground office location specific testing is required, and adding a network score.


The Network Performance page in the Microsoft 365 Admin Center is coming to customers in 2020 and we are planning to start a preview in the first quarter of 2020. You can register your interest in the preview by completing this form: http://aka.ms/netpreview


You can watch the recorded demo session THR3085 online for a demo of Network Performance in the Microsoft 365 Admin Center. 


Also read about other Office 365 network connectivity innovation announcements.

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